Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Cornish non-Christmas

The above is us singing Gaudete at Truro Cathedral last week with many thanks to Tina Wheeler.

This has been one of the most exhausting – and fun – run-ups to Christmas I have ever had. Not that much of it has had anything to do with Christmas itself, other than the singing, and for that I am grateful.

The gigs have been brilliant – the acoustics at Truro Cathedral were incredible, ditto Tremough, and singing in the Mediterranean biome at Eden was quite an experience. The last two days we’ve sung at Trelissick gardens round the courtyard fire, near the donkeys, and then I’ve gone on and had drinks or dinner with friends. Yes, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and I don’t apologise for that.

I shall be glad when Christmas is over, but I am aiming to go for a walk on the beach with Molls and a friend who is also not looking forward to Christmas. Then I go to Sheila and Richard, who frequently look after Mollie for me, for a meal early evening. Boxing Day – the day Pip died – I’m walking with my friend Andrea, and hope to see my brother in law in the evening.

This last year has been a huge emotional rollercoaster, to use that old cliché. There are times when I wonder if I dreamt the 14 years we had together, for my life has changed so much in the past year.

But next year brings my first walks book out in June, together with all the associated publicity and talks etc., and I’ve just received the draft contract for another walks book for 2013 which is very exciting. I need to work on the novel and send that off, and there are the walks for Cornwall Today. So workwise I have a lot to look forward to. There is also my singing which has proved a wonderful source of strength and friendship, and I am so grateful for the fabulous friends I have made.

It would be lovely to think that perhaps 2013 might bring happiness of another kind without too many complications. But perhaps that's too much to ask for. Who knows?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas Run Up

Molls hasn't featured here for a while, and of course is a very important part of my life, so I felt she should make an appearance.

Last weekend I met my dear friend Av in Devon and we stayed with my mum, taking her to the pub on Friday night and Christmas shopping and walking on the Saturday.
Av and I go back a long way and it’s wonderful to catch up with the news and have a good cheer up.

She headed back to Dorset full of Christmas festivities whereas my run up to Christmas is a musical one (though I must remember to get some presents).

Tonight we sing at Truro cathedral, then at Tremough university’s new Performance Centre on Friday evening, then another gig at the Eden Project on Saturday. (And a quick gig on Saturday lunchtime).

Oh, and two more next Monday and Tuesday. So I will either be hoarse by this time next week or unable to stop singing, which is more likely. Either way I will be pretty tired but in a pleasant way.

Last year Christmas passed me by and I was unable to do any of the gigs for obvious reasons, but this year I am more than making up for it, and it’s wonderful to have the freedom to do it, and with such a lovely bunch of people.

Our musical director, Claire Ingleheart, is an incredibly talented musician but also a teacher who manages to get the best out of everyone and inspires us all. Music has played such a big part in my life this year and given me a huge amount of strength.

So think of me, as you curl up in front of the fire with that glass of mulled wine. I will be singing my heart out, and no doubt collapse into bed with music ringing in my ears.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Awards and Friends

The above was taken by my mate Sally on our Boscastle walk a few weeks ago - a lovely day. Thanks Sally!

Last Thursday was one hell of a day, but we got to the awards for 6.30 having changed in the pub over the road. I have to say I was not at my best. My throat was so sore I could hardly swallow, let alone talk, I felt shattered, and all I really wanted to do was crawl into bed. But I had a glass of wine, made myself talk to some of the other shortlisters and one of the judges, then the awards began.

I didn’t win, but got £100 for being shortlisted, and right afterwards another of the judges came up and said how much she’d loved my novel – she wanted to know what happened in the end, and she adored Mungo (AKA Mollie). “Please don’t give up,” she said. “One of the other shortlisted people last year sent hers in and got it published, so you must do the same.”

That was such a boost, I can’t tell you. So I went and talked to the MD who asked me to send my novel in next year when I’ve finished the editing process. So that’s a real incentive, and in fact next summer is going to be busy with promoting the walks book in June and July – book signings and talks etc., so this could be better timing.

Afterwards I talked to Elaine, Luke Bitmead’s mother who has had a terrible time since Luke died. Last December Pip was so ill it was the worst time of my life, and while I try not to dwell on that, it’s obviously in my thoughts. My experience has been nothing like Elaine’s, but it was still good to compare notes about loss and how to move on.

Afterwards, Emma and I went to the pub (a Wetherspoons, which I frequent in Falmouth, so it was like home from home). Coming back with drinks, wearing my new jacket, I got a tap on the shoulder. Turning round, I saw a young man (late 20s?) who smiled and said, “I like your coat,” before disappearing in the crowds. I was stunned, and looked at Emma. “He’s old enough to be my SON!” I said.

“That’s your Pulling Coat,” she replied with a grin.

After a few drinks we headed back to Paddington where we got on the sleeper which looked rather romantic, sitting at the station. Until we got inside and we realised just how tiny the berths are.

“Maybe not so romantic,” I said, having been involved with men who are mostly 6 foot or over. “Unless you’re very small and very thin.”

“Or flexible,” suggested Emma.

Later, I lay curled up in my berth thinking of those who’d helped make the day such a good one. A good luck phone call from a friend while I was at Truro station, lots of texts on the train, Emma’s fabulous encouragement and support throughout the day, and the new contacts I made at the awards.

This morning I walked Molls along a deserted beach where the tide was out. Seagulls squawked and fought over grubs in one corner of the sea, the wind whipped my face and the sky was a bluey grey, with storm clouds gathering over Stack Point.

I thought of an email I was sent recently, entitled “Keep your friends close”. It doesn’t take much time to text, email or phone just to let friends know I'm thinking of them. So that’s what I try and do.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Gareth Malone and London awards

Picture of Minster Church, near Boscastle - a truly beautiful spot.

I was watching Gareth Malone’s The Choir the other night and thought how lucky I was not to be married to someone in the forces, having to live in temporary accommodation, rarely making friends and never knowing when or if you may see your loved one again.

At the moment my mum is not having a good time healthwise but at least we are in regular touch over the phone and I’m seeing her soon. One of my best friends is away and while I miss them at least I know they’re not in danger of being blown up, even if communication is patchy.

What struck me about Gareth’s programme was his realization of how isolated these women were. They literally didn’t have a voice. And while it was hard to get them to believe they could sing, once he did, they were off. You could see the joy in their faces as the music took hold, and the sense of unity that singing together can bring.

That’s what singing does for me, though unfortunately I will have to miss our rehearsal this week as I’m off to London for the Luke Bitmead Bursary Awards – for those of you that missed the news, I have been shortlisted for this novel writing award which would mean getting a bursary but also – more importantly – a publishing contract with Legend Press.

Life in Falmouth has not been without its ups and downs over the past few weeks (as ever), so I haven’t had much chance to think about Christmas and my stomach is currently swirling just thinking about the trip to London. Unfortunately I have also got a sore throat – one of those ones where you feel as if you’ve swallowed crushed glass – and lost my voice.

I know I won’t win it – that would be too much to ask – but I’m hoping that they will agree to look at the novel in its entirety when I’ve finished editing it, and may even publish it – who knows? If nothing else it will be a good experience and networking opportunities.

We’re getting the sleeper back, which gets into Truro at some ungodly hour on Friday morning. I really don’t fancy returning with a terrible hangover, so must remember NOT to have that last glass of wine. You know, the fatal one……

And yes, you bet I’ll will be wearing my lucky knickers.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


The above is – if my technical skills are up to it – a video of us doing a flashmob in Truro – or three, to be precise. For those of you who don’t know, a flashmob is a group of people who get together in a public place to perform for a short time, then disperse. The whole point is that it has to be a surprise, though, so we weren’t supposed to tell our friends.

This video is of us in Lemon Street Market, our last venue, but to start with we all gathered in Marks & Sparks, scattered around the clothing department and waited for 2.30 when our musical director, Claire, had said she would start the singing. Claire was positioned by the bras (the men loved that) and we had to keep an eye on her but look as if we were browsing.

My heart was pounding, my mouth went dry as I kept looking at Claire, idly inspecting a stack of Christmas presents, then she turned around and started singing. We sang a four part round where the basses come in first, then the tenors, altos and us sopranos last. This means each part has to concentrate hard on when to come in (each part sings each line 4 times before the next part comes in) which sounds easy but when your teeth are chattering, it isn’t.

However, as soon as we started singing I forgot my nerves, and M&S has surprisingly good acoustics. It is impossible to describe the sense of spine tingling magic – I felt as if someone had injected me with liquid adrenaline. I shivered and shimmered, it whirled round my head, and I just wanted to sing and sing, more and more. This was the Red Shoes of music.

We did that flashmob in two other places and the last was enjoyed so much the shoppers all clapped so we did an encore, not wanting it to stop. One of the other lovely things about it was the inclusivity – people brought partners, friends and husbands, children and dogs. Everyone was welcome and everyone enjoyed the sense of thrill, of fun, and the spontaneity of it all.

Of course the downside is that we all felt incredibly flat once all that adrenaline had worn off – sadly several good friends were away, but we will be doing another one soon. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The C Word

(This is actually the reflection of the sun in a puddle in case you're wondering and has absolutely nothing to do with this post.)

The other night I was wide awake (sleep is somewhat disrupted at present) thinking about the C word. Christmas. I’ve never been a great fan, to be honest – I’m not religious, I hate all the commercialisation and overindulgence associated with it, and not having children or grandchildren makes a mockery of much of the festive season.

As Pip died on Boxing Day last year, I am looking forward to Christmas less than usual this year, as you can imagine. But what to do?

Well, much though I love them, I feel very strongly that I don’t want to be with my family. They will be far too aware of This Time Last Year and I am aware that they could be treading on eggshells. I don’t want to be treated like porcelain. I want to be able to howl if I want, have a cuddle then go for a long walk and have a few drinks without worrying about anyone else.

There are a few people I would very much like to be with but most of them are taken up visiting their families. I’ve been invited by several other friends, so have a few possibilities and was reasonably happy with that until I met a close friend the other night for a drink. When I told her what I had vaguely planned she frowned.

“This Christmas I think you should get right away,” she said. “Do something completely different.” And as soon as she said it, I knew she was right.

The trouble is a) where to go, b) with whom (I don’t want to be on my own but I know instinctively who would be right and who wouldn’t, and c) there’s Molls to take into account. She either has to come with me or I need to find someone who can take her over Christmas.

This afternoon I was out walking Molls by the side of a field full of cauliflowers. I looked out over the grey winter landscape, at the blokes with battered coats picking muddy cauli after cauli. Rooks swooped in the distance over Rowland Hilder trees and I thought, “really, it’s only a few days. I‘ll get through it.” And I will get through it. But now that seed has been planted in my mind, I want to do more than just get through it. I’d like, if possible, to enjoy some of it.

What I need is a magic wand and a magic carpet. Failing that – any ideas?

Lastly – and this is connected, I’m not rambling - I’m reading Daphne du Maurier’s The King’s General. The plot is basically that some things in life have to be fought for – happiness, love and ambition in this instance, which reminded me that we all need to believe in what we are doing, and fight our corner, however hard this may seem.

And then I read this Cornish quote, as said to D du M, which I find very soothing: The sea is itself a symbol of the uncertainties of fate. “You will embark on a fair sea, and at times there will be fair weather and foul. Never lose courage. Safe harbour awaits you in the end.”

So regardless of what happens over Christmas – if I end up in far flung snowy wastelands, overheated houses or wave tossed beaches in Cornwall, I will think of the safe harbour awaiting me and those that I love.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


I’d been planning to write something else, but was wide awake at 3am thinking about my visit to Godrevy last week and emotions. This is not a post about grief, but about those emotions that we all have. Love, hatred, desire, jealousy, to name but a few of the stronger ones.

Being oversensitive, I’ve always been swallowed up by my emotions. They’ve tended to rule my life, like a greedy dictator, so I always ran from them. When Pip was very ill, and it latterly became clear that he wouldn’t make it, I was terrified, not least because I’d watched my mother endure my father’s death at a similar age.

But after he died, and I wept my way through those early days, I began to realize that grief is not to be feared: it is nature’s way of helping us deal with loss. Instead of running from it, I took a deep breath, as if I was diving underwater, and swam into it. To my surprise, it was much easier to deal with loss head on.

It is so easy to be overwhelmed by these rollercoasters of feelings that we all have. Some are marvellous and catapult us joyously into the air, so we soar like seagulls. Some fill us with a steady, contented glow. Others leave us stranded and gasping on a lonely beach. I see emotions as being like the sea: they need to be respected. If we can befriend our feelings we can enjoy them and make the most of them, instead of being frightened by them.

In my case I write about them. (The happy ones too.) I sing about them. Or, like the wave above, take pictures of them. Others – who are more visual - may paint, draw or sculpt them. Some dance them (though I only tend to do that after too much wine these days). I find the important thing is to do something with them, and remember that life has crap times and much better ones.

Joy often comes suddenly, as it has recently. An unexpected phone call. A spontaneous visit to the beach when the tide’s out and the surf’s up. A clear sunny day. An email from an old friend.

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a fleeting feeling - as if I’m sitting on a sun dappled lawn. Or basking in front of a fire. A sensation of inner warmth.

I wondered what it was at first. And then I remembered. It’s little sparks of happiness.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Happy Birthday

This was taken yesterday at Godrevy where I had a lovely afternoon - went on to Hell's Mouth and then tea at Portreath (you know I have to eat about every 3 hours).

Today would have been Pip’s 71st birthday. And while the rest of this year will bring back memories of a very sad and difficult time last year, when I look back over this year I am amazed at how my life has changed.

Pip gave me confidence and love in abundance. He enabled me to become the person I am becoming. I don’t know who she is yet – the process is ongoing – but his absence has made me grow stronger. I am no longer protected by him and have to do things myself – like driving long distances – which I was frightened of.

I went to a fabulous singing weekend at Prussia Cove last weekend where I met new people, stayed in incredible gothic location and walked Molls along a new stretch of the cliffs. I learnt the joy of singing with strangers – outside. Of relaxing on the sofa on the Sunday afternoon while someone strummed the guitar and we all sang along.

I have learnt that I am a singer and that music is a huge source of strength. I am learning photography and how to compose pictures. I am becoming stronger, and able to help others with this strength. I have made several new friends who have helped me hugely. I am learning to live and to love life.

And lastly, I have been shortlisted for the 2011 Luke Bitmead Bursary Award from Legend Press for my novel FOUR LEFT FEET that I am currently editing. I have been invited to the awards ceremony in London on December 1st and hope to go to that, though unlike one good friend, who is convinced I will win, I am not holding out any great expectations. To have got this far is amazing and gives me the boost I need to get on with editing the novel.

So get on with it, Flowerpot……

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sing, sing, singing

This is a singing blog today, because tomorrow I am taking part in a workshop with the Pearl of Africa Children’s Choir. There are about 20 members of the Choir which was founded in 1983, and they’re here from September to November touring all over England raising funds for schools and homes run by the Molly and Paul Child Care Foundation. This is a Ugandan non-government organisation which provides education, food, shelter and healthcare to orphaned and destitute children in the Kampala and Massaka Districts. They have an amazing itinerary, with an appearance at the Eden Project and the Respect Festival in Plymouth, as well as an appearance on BBC Spotlight.

Later, they are giving a performance on the King Harry Ferry, with those who have been to the workshop joining in. At least, that’s the plan – given the weather forecast I’m not sure whether an alternative venue has been booked.

The other big singing item is this weekend when a member of our choir has booked several houses at Prussia Cove for several days of singing, music making, eating and drinking, walking – whatever we feel like doing, with a knees up on Saturday night when anyone can perform – songs, music, poetry, stories, plays, madness – who knows?

There will be about 50 of us staying in a selection of several houses and we all take food and wine etc. Even better, Mollie’s allowed to come. So by the end of the weekend I will be all sung out. And much the happier for it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Last Day of Summer and Blood Sugar Levels

On Sunday I arranged to go down to Zennor with a friend, something we’d been wanting to do for months but never quite came about.

Planning a day out, for me, needs careful preparation as I need to eat regularly or my blood sugar level crashes. So the glove compartment of the van is stacked with cereal bars. We started with cooked breakfast at Sainsbury’s - for those of you who are interested, I had cheese and mushroom omelette with hash browns and baked beans. Then we went to a car boot where I got a whole wardrobe of very good quality stuff for £5. Very satisfying indeed. And the sun came out.

After that we headed down to Zennor and en route I realised it was time for ginger cake from Stones Bakery at the bottom of the High Street in Falmouth - deliciously light and moist.

By the time we reached Zennor the sky was a clear blue and the sun beat down like a hot summer’s day - as we sat outside the pub with a glass of wine and crisps I could feel my arms burning. (Note – Mollie thoroughly approves of outings to the pub as she loves crisps. In fact she loves anything edible.)

Having refreshed ourselves we had a quick look at the Mermaid's Chair in Zennor church, then set off to find Zennor Quoit. The lady in the pub gave us directions but we didn’t quite manage it as I’d left the OS map on my kitchen table, but we found Lanyon Quoit later (after more cake) and I managed to take some pictures – see above.

We then returned via Marazion and a scamper along the beach, and as we drove back, with the sun setting, we both felt as if we'd had a mini holiday. Which I suppose we had. Back home it was time to feed the animals and then time for me to eat again - fishcakes with chips and salad.

Cornwall is beautiful in all weathers, to my mind, but given the weather we had on Sunday it transformed it into a really magical place. We were so lucky to have that last day of summer and thanks to Pip's camera, the photos will keep me going through the cold, grey days of winter.

What will you use to keep you going through winter?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


This is the Jubilee Pool in Penzance which sadly was shut when we got there. But I couldn't resist taking some pictures.

Absence due to a holiday in Penzance which was much needed, though I could have done with another week to be honest. The first weekend two close friends came down with me and we made the most of that glorious hot weather, swimming at Marazion, walking over to Lamorna from Mousehole and attending various pubs.

They left on the Sunday night and my mum arrived on the Monday morning. We were invited to our cousins for supper on the Monday night, had a lovely day together on Tuesday and I put her on the train on Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning my dear friend Viv and her dog Titch arrived and the rest of the week was a lot of fun. Which isn’t to say that the first part wasn’t, she says hastily. But Viv is very easy.

It was lovely having a few days to unwind, walk the dogs, potter about Penzance and have someone to cook for – though Viv’s lovely partner Paul bought us wine and a takeaway the first night. We did several walks for Cornwall Today, got lost (as we always do) and laughed a lot (as we always do).

In amongst all of this, I discovered that a close friend of mine was feeling really low. Then another whose husband is ill so she is feeling really low. Then to top it all, another close mate had a suspected heart attack.

But the first friend is coming out of his period of reclusion and talking again, my friend’s husband is improving and my third friend has had loads of tests and they can’t find anything wrong.

Phew. But you can see why I wanted another week’s holiday.

In the meantime, I was sent this wonderful caption this morning. “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by arseholes.”

Had to send it to Friend #1. Thank God he hasn’t lost his sense of humour.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Last weekend couldn’t have provided more contrast – a great gig on Saturday night followed by scattering more of Pip’s ashes on the Sunday. But let me start with Pip first of all.

I was determined to scatter the second lot of Pip’s ashes at Polly Joke, his favourite beach on the north coast of Cornwall and one where we both had very happy memories. Luckily Sunday was a sunny if windy day and so Deb and Molls and I set off for our favourite spot with camera and hankies.

As we neared the car park, I put on a Queen CD and guess what the first track was? Another One Bites the Dust. Deb and I laughed – it was just as if Pip was running the day, which he probably was.

The beach wasn’t too crowded as the tide was coming in and I took pictures on the way down, then Deb said she’d take over as cameraman as I scattered the ashes over the sea. Trouble was, I couldn’t get the tin open. (Pip’s sense of humour no doubt.) Then once open, I shook him free but suddenly Deb shouted, “Sue!” The tide was rushing up the sand, roaring over my feet as we both ran backwards, trying to avoid the incoming waves.

We had a big hug while Mollie danced in the shallows and roared up and down the beach, then walked up to the Bowgie pub where we sat outside with a glass of wine each, a packet of crisps for Molls and felt that Pip would very much have approved.

I’ve kept a few ashes in a tin which is still on his side of the bed. When I told Deb she said, “When you get together with someone else and take him back to bed, you’d better move Pip,” she said. “They might be put off if they know your husband’s watching.”

But back to Saturday’s gig at Miss Peapods in Penryn where Joshua Caole started playing and singing and that got us in the mood. He was followed by Chris Woods, an incredible acoustic guitar player who uses ‘string slapping’ to produce amazing percussive effects by finger tapping, rapid drumming and ordinary finger picking. Well worth a listen.

Last on was Cole Stacey, a great singer and guitarist who, after a few numbers, asked if anyone was up for a sing. Well, of course I said YES! which astonished most of the audience. Cole was delighted, and asked me to sing lead vocals (in fact a few choruses) which was a good warm up for the rest of the audience to sing along.

I had a great time and you know, the nicest thing was, as we left they were all standing outside. I said thanks for a great evening and hoped they would come back for another gig. They turned and said, “Oh it’s Sue! Thanks, Sue – you made the gig!”

Like my other friends, Pip would be bursting with pride.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Food, glorious food

I’ve been suffering from a bad attack of frozen shoulder which has been agony and meant not being able to type or write – bit of an occupational hazard for a writer. Today it’s feeling a bit better but as I have to transcribe an interview I did on Friday, and am interviewing Ian Rankin on Monday (a phoner, sadly, not meeting the man in person), I am saving my energies, so here is something I was asked to write some time ago. About food.

About 15 years ago I developed an intolerance to caffeine which means that tea, coffee and chocolate turns me into a hyperactive lunatic incapable of sitting still. My heart pounds, my hands shake – it’s like having a panic attack. A high price to pay for a few moments of indulgence.

So now I drink decaff coffee, Rooibosh tea and pass on chocolate. Occasionally the odd bit is tolerated, but only a little.

But oh, I do miss it. Looking at a piece of chocolate cake the other day, I could taste the rich velvety sweetness on my tongue. The seductive way it would stick to my teeth. I would sample the dark heaviness for minutes, hours later. Chocolate should be made by kings and queens for royalty, I think. When indulging in chocolate, it should be eaten slowly, every mouthful savoured, lingered over.

I long for the rich bitter taste of freshly brewed coffee that goes so well with bacon sarnies or buttery croissants. When I smell fresh coffee drifting out from someone’s window I sniff, like a Bisto kid, and the smell of it invigorates me, even if I can’t drink it. If other people have a cup, I grab it and inhale, like a glue sniffer. I can imagine the seductive way it slips down my throat, seeps round my system like a snake, winding up the parts that other drugs can’t reach.

I remember, years ago, having friends over for a meal and someone brought a home made tiramisu. This was a way of combining all our favourite foods in one. A smorgasbord of secret delights. A marriage of two powerful families: the rich, powerful coffee with the sensuous, fecund chocolate. Their union resulted in a dish of previously unimagined decadence with an ermine lacing of cream, topped with teasing shavings of chocolate.

Who could resist that?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Last To Go

Life continues to throw up surprises. Some of them good, some not so good, all of them emotional right now, but what’s new?

On Saturday we sang at Newquay Fish Festival which was a great gig with unexpected sunshine, cheerful, welcoming audiences and sardines barbecued on the harbour front, crab pots being made of willow, good cider and a van stuck on the beach with rapidly incoming tide.

On Sunday I joined some friends at Falmouth’s Princess Pavilions where Gweek Silver Band was playing, and this reminded me of Pip’s cornet, sitting unplayed and neglected by his side of the bed. My brother in law and I had discussed the cornet months ago and agreed we’d much rather it went to someone keen who would play it regularly, preferably in a band, but I’d had no response to previous emails.

So on Monday I emailed the Cornwall Youth Band and have had several phone calls from very keen cornet players. All of them female, which Pip would approve of. One is so keen that her mum is driving down from Devon this morning to come and pick it up and pay me cash.

So far I’ve been really lucky – everything of his with emotional value has gone to a really good home which means far more to me than any money. So fingers crossed for this one. In between bouts where my tears drip like an ongoing tap, I have a good feeling about it, and this will complete the list of things to be sold.

Unless anyone fancies a sausage maker?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Another Wave

Last Saturday I finally got round to inviting several friends round who I’d been wanting to get together all year. So it was arranged that everyone would bring something to eat as well as wine so all I had to do was make two cottage pies and move the tables and chairs around before they arrived.

Darling Pip would always get in a fluster before we had people for a meal. I would be banned from the kitchen - “get out Pop. Go and lay the table,” while he created dish after dish of wonderful food with the aid of a few glasses of wine. Or whatever he was currently drinking. Our visitors always had a great time, were very well fed and watered and reeled off into the night at some late stage.

This time it was much more laid back. I'd done everything by late morning so I could relax in the afternoon – just as well as I get exhausted spells and this was one of them.

I wore The Dress – which has been christened twice now, and much admired by everyone. It’s also very comfortable, warmer than I’d thought and one of those dresses you put on and feel really good in. The first christening was at a brilliant gig in Falmouth where a friend’s partner tipped Tribute down my left boob. But no matter. It gave me something to sip at while I waited at the bar.

Pip would have loved the dress, and would have approved of the evening (though not the fact that other people brought food). But we all had a lovely time, everyone helped me clear and wash up, so there was very little to do the next day. But oh, how I missed him. Sitting next to me round the table. Sharing the evening. And the post mortem, lying in bed the next morning having a cuddle.

Mollie and I sat on my steps the next morning in the sunshine with a cup of tea, looking out to sea. Where he is and is not. And I wondered about life. How you can so easily take people for granted, and suddenly they’re gone.

This time last year we were about to go on holiday. Shortly after that he became very ill, a month at home and then the last two months of his life in hospital. So I'm aware that the rest of this year is going to be tough. Full of memories I would rather not have. But as Pip once said, “life is about how you deal with setbacks, Pop, not successes.”

This is one setback that I hadn’t envisaged happening so soon. But I do believe that life throws things at you and you have to deal with them. Somehow. One of my ways is by writing down my journey.

So thank you for reading and thank you for your support. You make all the difference.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Unwrapping my husband

On Sunday evening I unwrapped my husband.

He’d been in a green cardboard box and I’ve kept him beside my bed (on his side) since 7th January. But now it was time to decant him and scatter some of his ashes on the Carrick Roads. For those of you unused to Cornish ways, this is actually a river where he used to fish for oysters.

I have to say I hadn’t been looking forward to this outing, but after a delicious lunch provided by two friends, Molls and I went with them on their boat, up the river. The sky was a deep dark blue, there was just enough wind for a sail, and so many other boats out there also enjoying the Bank Holiday weather.

We halted just near the boundary between Truro Harbour and Falmouth Harbour (marked by a granite post) and Michael read Masefield’s “Sea Fever” as well as Brian Patten’s “How long does a man live?” (I knew I couldn’t speak I’d be gulping too much.) Then, checking the direction of the wind, I said, “Goodbye darling,” and emptied a tin full of Pip into the river. Andrea had bought two bunches of flowers which we threw onto the water, and with each one I shouted one of Pip’s favourite sayings – including “shoot the bastards” and his made-up German swear words.

Just then a wind caught the sails and the boat sped forwards. It was as if Pip was saying, “Come on, enough of that. Let’s go for a sail for God’s sake!”

I laughed then – it was so typical him. And as the boat gathered speed, I felt the wind in my hair, the salt on my lips and a thrill ran through me. “I see what you mean, darling,” I thought. “This is what sailing’s all about!”

So two unexpectedly good things came from that day. One – my Pip is where he should be – out on the water. And two – I can now really understand his passion for sailing. And maybe, one day, do more of it myself?

Wherever I go, it seems, Pip will be there, somewhere. Just keeping an eye on me.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Film Stars, Music and Eggs

Last Friday Molls and I set off to be film stars.

I’d had a phone call the previous week out of the blue, from a freelance film director who was doing some work for Visit Cornwall. He had read my blog and said “you have described Polly Joke so beautifully” that he wondered if I would take part in his film. Well, as any writer will tell you, those words are magic to the soul. Of course I said yes and we fixed last Friday as the date, dependent on the weather.

As luck would have it, Friday afternoon revealed skies of a perfect Wedgewood blue, streaked with mare’s tail clouds. I met Gareth in the Bowgie car park and we headed down towards the beach, him stopping to film en route. The tide was far out, so we had a clear expanse of golden sand which Molls adores, and he interviewed me by the waterline, then filmed me and Molls walking and running along the beach. We then had a paddle, walked back up to the pub and had a drink in the sunshine. Overall it was a fun afternoon and getting paid petrol money to spend the afternoon on your favourite beach, particularly if it might lead to some publicity, can’t be bad.

There have been a few disappointments recently - as there always are in life. But life is full of ups and downs and one particular disappointment could be, I am guessing, a blessing in disguise. Who knows? At the moment life has a habit of throwing the unexpected at me so I can only go with it. And enjoy what there is to enjoy. Learn from what there is to learn.

Tomorrow we start singing again having had a summer’s break, and I can’t wait. I’m off to a gig of All the Fires on Friday night (which is where I will give The Dress its first outing) then my choir are singing at a gig on Saturday afternoon in Penryn. Music is back in my life!

And dear Joe from upstairs rang this morning to say he’d been down to the pub last night and got me a dozen eggs which he had left outside my back door. “How much do I owe you?” I asked, very touched that he’d done this.

“They were a pound but I don’t want the money,” he insisted gruffly.

Recently I’ve been more aware than ever that I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful bunch of friends.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Good news and - A Dress....

Last Friday I went to a book launch of a walks book by a publishing company who are interested in publishing a(nother) book of my walks. I was nervous beforehand, but when I met them, got on very well and they said how much they loved my writing. You can imagine how I felt about THAT.

They’d said they were at the end of their marketing tour and would be shattered, so I offered them Rescue Remedy or brandy. “Both please!” they replied. Of course I couldn’t find any miniature brandy bottles so ended up getting a can of G&T which they left on the display table, thereby attracting more interest as the punters thought they might get a free gin.

Anyway, I left there having provisionally agreed to do a walks book with them in 2013 (subject to contract of course) and so delighted that I went into Monsoon and tried on a dress. Now, the last time I wore a dress was 12 years ago for my wedding. Before that – I can’t remember. So a dress is a big thing. And I fell in love with this one which, of course, they didn’t have in my size. But having got the bit between my teeth, I went home and ordered it online. Yes, paid good money for a dress. Me. I still can’t believe it (but then it hasn’t arrived yet).

As I sat, reeling with the tremendousness of the morning, the phone rang. Long story short, it was from the creative director of a film company making films for Visit Cornwall. He’d come across my blog while researching a beach called Polly Joke and thought my writing so beautiful, would I consider taking part in one of his films?

Well, anyone who says nice things about my writing has me for a sucker. Of course I said yes. So stunned was I, I didn’t think to ask about money though he did say he’d pay travel expenses, and we may film on Friday depending on the weather.

I was so excited I thought I’d burst, and frantically sent emails and texts. No one at home on a Friday lunchtime. So I went round the corner to see a friend, jumped up and down and had a hug and felt a lot better.

The next day I felt very strange. As if this was happening to someone else. Having been used to things not going so well, a bit of good news is very difficult to take. I’m waiting for something else to go wrong – which it did in the shape of the Times changing their mind over a piece.

But the good bits remain. And I’ve had an email to say that my dress is on its way. Quite where I shall wear this dress is a mystery. But where it I shall, if only to the pub.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Lucky Knickers

The above picture is of my dear mate Viv cuddling Molls on one of our walks for Cornwall Today, taken at Roundwood Quay.

I’m not a superstitious person but where I do look for help is from my knickers and jewellery. That could be entirely misconstrued so stop snorting. I’m referring to the colour – or patterns – of those items of undergarments, to bring me luck or strength.

I have a favourite pair which is (or should that be ‘are’?) red with black spots and are used for occasions when I know I will be tested and need some courage. For instance, on the day I knew would be Pip’s last. The day of his service and last party. When going to interview Bill Bryson. No, actually I was wearing lemon coloured trousers so I had to wear white ones for those. But I wore my red spotty ones for a busy day with meetings and then giving a talk at Penzance Literary Festival. Or when I just have those wobbly days when I need a bit of secret support.

I also have some lucky jewellery – a lovely swan pendant that Pip made; some of his lovely Cornish tin pendants, and a lovely ring of my grandmother’s that I didn’t wear for ages as I was worried about losing it. Then a friend said, “Seems a shame not to wear it. Why not put it on when you go out?” So that’s what I do, and it means that wherever I go, she can come too.

Talking of superstitions, I don’t actually walk under ladders right now. Don’t want to tempt any more bad luck.

Any else have any superstitions?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Past, Present and Future

Dear Av took this picture of me on the beach near Noss Mayo. It was a bit dark that day, so thankfully you can't see me that well but as ever Molls looks good.

This is written from a thick cloud of fluey fog. One that had me confined to bed for several days – an almost unheard of occurrence, and has left me with a delightfully rasping cough, which feels as if someone is grating my throat with a cheese grater, and sounds as if I’m smoking 60 Players a day. However, I am on the Up…

Dear Sheila walked Molls for me and other friends have been great at seeing how I am. I am up but my brain, fingers and legs are not cooperating. Thank God I have no deadlines this week. However I am determined to be better for Falmouth carnival on Saturday or certainly the Cornish singing night in the pub on Sunday.

Last week, after the excitement of Port Eliot, to my astonishment I received an email from the director of Ways with Words (one of the oldest literary festivals) booking me for a talk next year and also asking if I’d take a walk. Would I? I nearly burst with excitement…..

That was followed by a meeting in Truro which resulted in some really interesting commissions and then I had to leg it down to Penzance (or rather, sat in a visitor-inspired traffic jam for nearly 2 hours) to meet Fi prior to our talk on Writing for Magazines at the Penzance Literary Festival. Despite not having a huge audience, those that attended were very keen and asked loads of questions which is much better than having lots of people who nod off, so we were pleased.

I looked at my diary last year, and realised that life was much quieter then. It seems a million years ago, for I have had to adjust to this new life so quickly, that I sometimes wonder whether I ever was married. Did I dream those 14 years? And that got me thinking about The Future – you know, if there is someone that determines Partnership Fate, what is in store for me? I am very grateful for the years Pip and I had together, but sometimes I look at other people and think how lucky they are to be celebrating 30 or 40 years together. Something I will never now have. Well actually I suppose if I get a move on I could. Just :)

But life is full of enjoyable things. As a friend said the other day, “It seems that life doesn’t want you to be quiet right now”. At least being ill forced me to lie in bed, sleep and read. Bliss. Perhaps I should try and aim for a rather better balance - the thing is, there are many lovely people to meet up with and so many interesting things to do….. And let’s face it, life has been somewhat short of Fun over the last few years.

And who knows what, or who, is round the corner?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Love, Port Eliot and Penzance Literary Festival

I am in love. You know - that heart racing, toe tapping sensation that lifts you several inches off the ground. Sharpens all your senses. Leaves a beatific smile on your face and gives you a warm, Ready Brek glow that touches everyone you pass.

But before you get excited, this is due to no man. This is because of the Port Eliot festival which I went to for the first time on Sunday. As it’s fairly laid back, I thought I’d enjoy it but was unprepared for the sheer depth and scope of the place. The setting is wonderful to start off with – a hidden estate nestled next door to the mystical-sounding Menheniot, yet not far from blustering, sprawling Plymouth.

We arrived by train and followed others to a doorway in an old stone wall. Port Eliot Estate, it read, and we entered a world of magic. There was so much to see – first in the Walled Garden, then we stumbled through a fairytale garden with whirls of colour and books. The scent of cooking wafted towards us tingling our taste buds. Next door clothes of all kinds were displayed in rows of jangling colour, next door to secret stalls of jewellery, and short wellies called Spats. A Flower Garden; a maze, a Hulaboloo play area for kids. Around every corner was a different exploration that roused and bombarded, soothed and seduced the senses.

Further on we found a path through elegant beech trees winding down to the river, watched those jumping in, cavorting with glee on the mud banks. Emerging shivering, wrapped in towels, by a stall selling Bellinis. The house itself was straight from a fairy tale – quiet, turreted splendour with towers for Rapunzel. A Round Room with amazing murals by Lenkiewicz. And who knows what else? I ran out of time to explore.

“I had Kate Winslet for breakfast,” said Phil longingly – for Kate read from the book Mr Gum to a rapt audience (of mostly men, for she was wearing black shorts, revealing muscular thighs, and shiny, pristine Hunter boots). Even Jilly’s rapacious mosquito bites didn’t deter her enthusiasm as we sat in the sunshine with a well earned beer.

From a bench we watched as a horse drawn cart conveyed luggage to and from the campsites, gypsy caravans snuggled next to a horse box where you could discover a New You, and we sampled a selection of eateries on the lawn by the stunning house offering everything from Pimms, ice cream and falafels to pork baps, haloumi sarnies and Thai curries.

Us music lovers were drawn to the Big Top where we listened to all kinds of bands under hot lights that rotated green, blue and pink, while the music pounded against my breastbone like hot adrenaline, making even my cup shake.

I emerged pixillated and speechless, longing to share my experiences with those friends that would have loved it but couldn’t make it. But how? I sat on the train scribbling, texting, but mere words couldn’t convey my experience of this amazing day.

Now I need another music fix – fast – and unfortunately our choir is having a summer break. Then I remember it’s our lovely musical director’s birthday this Saturday, so we are all meeting for tea, cakes and a Big Sing. So think of us with crumbs on our laps and music in our heads, singing our hearts out for Claire.

And back to matters literary - if anyone is in Penzance this Thursday 28th, Fi Read and I are giving our talk for the Penzance Literary Festival at 2pm at the Acorn Theatre. Come and give us some moral support!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Holidays and Absent Men

This is me and Molls on a wonderful walk round Noss Mayo last week. My holiday was all too short – 4 days not nearly long enough to recharge my batteries – but wonderful and the drive to Devon went well. Dear Pip was very protective of me and as I don’t enjoy driving, he would do it for me. Now I decided it was time I did it myself, sang most of the way, even enjoyed part of it and have a sense of achievement. A friend had checked the van over for me before I went which also gave me confidence, so that’s another box ticked.

I had a great few days walking and nattering with my dear friend Av. We also hit the charity shops and for those of you interested in Acquisitions, I found a pair of denim cut offs (Per Una) that could have been made for me, plus t shirt at combined price of £5.50 so I was well chuffed with those.

My contact lenses also got the thumbs up from both Av and my mum – “I can see your eyes again,” said my mum in bewilderment. “You look amazing.” Though I think that was more down to the fact that my face is brown and I was wearing a bright pink t shirt…

Poor Mum hasn’t been having a good time of things recently but I think we cheered her up a bit, took her to the pub for supper and had a meal with my good mates John and Annie another night, all of which meant I had fish pie three nights running but who cares? I didn’t have to cook which was a great bonus.

The only down side was coming home to an empty flat. Bussie (the remaining male resident of Flowerpot House) was absent. Now this is a bloke who likes his food. Who wakes me at 5 every morning yowling and demanding his breakfast. I called and called. I searched the neighbouring streets. Asked the neighbours. Rang local radio station. Still no Bussie. Several years ago he disappeared when he was injured in a cat fight so I figured he’d either been in (yet another) fight or been shut in somewhere. Like most of the men in my life, he’s frequently in trouble.

On Sunday night I came back and there sitting in the hall was – “Bussie!” I cried. He was very thin and found it difficult to walk. His back legs were creaky and he was filthy. He could hardly eat but since then has been eating and is more mobile but I’m keeping a close eye on him for the next day or two. A trip to the vet might be on the cards (though given the last bill I’m hoping to avoid that).

Tonight I’m off to the Poly in Falmouth for a friend’s private view and on Sunday I’m going to Port Eliot festival, so next week I will fill you in on that – oh and tell you about my unexpected meeting on Dartmoor with a pilot. Sometimes you never know who you’re going to meet, where….

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Holiday Time

As of next Monday I am taking a holiday. One that is overdue by a month, so it will be very welcome. Molls and I are off to Devon to meet my dear friend Av and go walking on Dartmoor and in the South Hams. (Cue here for torrential downpours over the next week.)

We will be staying with my mum who’s not had the best of health recently so we can take her out and about a bit as well which will be lovely. Av is reeling with shock as over the past few months I have started to take an interest in my appearance. After 15 years of living with darling Pip who said “I think you look wonderful whatever you wear,” I have realised that frequently I don’t so it’s fun taking an interest in clothes again – in a limited way.

A friend, having seen our wedding pictures, asked why I wore glasses when I used to wear contact lenses. “Those glasses suit you, but you don’t make the most of your looks,” he said. I was furious but it made me think. I asked mum what she thought about me going back to contact lenses. “Oh definitely,” she said.

I sat and thought. And as I needed an eye test anyway, went along. I now have soft lenses and I hate to say it, but I feel very different. They do suit me.

In amongst our stomping over Dartmoor, I have asked Av to come shopping with me. It will be charity shops or somewhere cheap but she has excellent taste in what suits whom, and I’m really looking forward to our Spree.

Pip has settled into a good space. He is nearby when I need him but comes everywhere with me, which I think is as it should be. I miss him – of course I do – but I have had to adapt – fast – to life without him. I am becoming a different person and life is full of Firsts. Driving up to Devon by myself will be another first, but I know I will feel a huge sense of achievement having done it.

I am also learning how to deal with the many practical problems that arise and am extremely fortunate in having three very trusty and protective men I can call upon for help. Given the circumstances, I think I am very lucky.

See you all in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Cawsands Walk

This is one I did with Viv on one of the coldest days in January - or was it February. Twas b*** cold anyway but one I would love to do again in more clement weather.

I was intending to come to Kingsands and Cawsands for a holiday this March, but without Pip, it didn't seem right. However, Viv had been waxing lyrical about the two 17th century fishing villages, so I was looking forward to this walk, intrigued by the fact that Kingsands was once in Devon, with Cawsands in Cornwall. Ever one for useless detail, I also liked the idea that in days gone by, life for the smugglers of Kingsands and Cawsands was a constant battle with Customs: girls apparently took brandy into Plymouth under their petticoats.

Back to the present day, and minus petticoats, we took the A374 and followed signs to Millbrook, then headed into the picturesque village of Cawsands, where we parked in the car park in the middle of the village. From there, Mark, who ran the car park, gave us directions and a map, and we turned left up the street, past the village shop and turned right, past the Rising Sun Inn. Lost already, we got instructions from a friendly Welsh builder to go up the hill then turn right into Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.

Ahead lay Minadew Brakes, a wide grassy area with fabulous views stretching out over the huge expanse of Cawsand Bay, and Plymouth Sound further up. Fort Picklecombe could be seen ahead, and woods up on our left: this is a popular walk for walkers and dogs, who were both soon covered in the brick red mud typical of this area.

It was a raw grey winter's day, but beautiful nonetheless: a kestrel hovered overhead, and waves crashed angrily on the rocks to our right. But spring showed promise with daffodil buds shyly peeping out from walls of dried bracken and gorse flower the only colour on this scowling day. “Gorse in flower, kissing in season,” said Viv optimistically, though there was no one en route on which to try this out.

Heading for Maker church, we passed what might have been a quarry where huge trees hovered over us with bare roots like tortured arms, and branches like belly dancer's limbs; supple and bendy looking.

At the end of Minadew Brakes, we came to a kissing gate where we turned sharp right onto a lane which led in front of a large house and Hooe Lake on our right, then first left through an iron gate. Ahead of us were three paths – we should have taken the left hand path which leads straight to Maker Church, but we started off on the middle path – luckily two German walkers put us right and we found ourselves at the top of what looked like a grassy, incredibly steep canyon, which we had to cross.

Sliding down was one thing, but half way up the almost vertical bank opposite, I looked nervously back at Viv, who has a heart condition. She was puffing but was alive which was a bonus. Reaching the top, I looked back over Plymouth Sound and noted two Navy destroyers coming in. Rain clouds loomed on the horizon and above us, in the middle of miles of gracious parkland, a helicopter hovered: at any minute I expected machine guns to rain down on us, forcing us to flatten ourselves to the ground. But the helicopter moved on, and we continued our walk towards Maker Church that peeped out of the winter gloom like Rapunzel's tower.

Passing woods on our left, with dead branches waving ghostly grey fingers, we reached the top of the hill which must be one of the highest points of Cornwall – there is such a feeling of space here, looking out over Plymouth Sound, the River Tamar and Plymouth Docks, with Edgcumbe Park stretching magnificently in front of us. Behind us were fields and fields of emerald green with hardly a house in sight.

We decided to pay a quick visit to the church, the tower of which was used as a naval signal station, but it was locked so we turned our attention to Edgcumbe House and Park. Sir Richard Edgcumbe of Cotehele built the original house in his deer park in 1547-50. It was largely destroyed in the Plymouth blitz of 1941 but has now been restored and houses paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gerard Edema and William van der Velde, 16th century tapestries, Irish bronze age horns and 18th century Chinese and Plymouth porcelain. In the 18th century the family created formal gardens, temples, follies and woodlands with Californian Redwood trees sheltering a herd of wild fallow deer.

Setting off through the park once again, we headed along a path towards Harbour View Seat. The path disappeared and we were concerned that we would end up in Cremyll when we'd only got 6 hours of car parking time. Unable to find Harbour View Seat, we headed right, past the impressive Grotton Plantation on our left, and a herd of delicate deer gazing at us in the distance. “Is it rutting season?” said Viv, stumbling over the rough path. “No, I replied stoutly, “that's April isn't it?” I had no idea, but walked faster just in case.

The paths on our map bore no resemblance to the parkland we walked through, but we headed back towards the sea where Viv was determined to find Fort Picklecombe, which was hard enough to say when sober. We found ourselves on the seaward side of the canyon we traversed earlier, and a very steep path roughened by sliding hoof marks led us back to the iron gate near the road and we retraced our steps past Hooe Lake, with Kingsands and Cawsands nestled in the cliffs ahead of us.

“If we'd turned left, do you think we'd get to Fort Picklecombe?” said Viv hopefully. Seeing my frozen face, she added, “I don't want to do it today. Perhaps another time?”

From here we reached a sign saying Kingsand 1 mile and retraced our steps along the Minadew where we sat on a bench and ate the last of our sandwiches. This walk is full of beauty - the sheer size and scope of the parkland, the water and the woods – but wrap up warmly, for it is exposed on all sides.

We'll definitely come back to this forgotten area of Cornwall: we want to explore the villages, which boast several pubs and art galleries, as well as the many and varied walks. “Though we'd better get in training,” said Viv, sharing a biscuit with the dogs. “With the SAS.”

OS Map 201 Plymouth and Launceston
Length: Approx 3.5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Grade: - some very steep hills, can be extremely muddy.
Refreshments: Rising Sun Inn and Cross Keys -
and plenty of other pubs
Mount Edgcumbe House and Garden – 01752 822236
A passenger ferry operates between Cawsands and Kingsands and the Barbican in Plymouth.
Whitsand Bay, the longest sandy beach in England, is nearby.
Parking in Cawsands: £1 for 6 hours at time of walking.
Public Toilets next to car park in Cawsands.
Galleries -

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Big Sing

I apologise for yet another post about singing, but I have to tell you about The Big Sing. Next week I promise I won't even MENTION singing....

Last night being the summer solstice, the Suitcase Singers and Claire’s other two choirs headed off to Watergate Bay on the North Coast of Cornwall for the Big Sing. A midsummer’s evening of music, art and dance. Given the weather recently we were prepared for the worst with brollies, thermals, scarves and all manner of warm keeping stuff, but we got there at 6.30 to brilliant sunshine on a clear beach miles long, albeit with a stiff onshore breeze.

We all laid down picnic rugs, opened bottles and stood and chatted while we did a quick warm up, then the first dancers did a wonderful dance barefooted on the sand. This was followed by several other choirs, then us. Standing on the stage there, looking out over a sea of rapt friends, with the sea crashing behind them, was an incredibly moving experience. We all shared picnics, drank rather too much wine in our case – it’s strange how it seems to go down very quickly on a beach – and had to retire to the bar to wait for our taxi. 8 of us shared a lift home and sang, to the bemusement of the taxi driver, all the way back.

MollieDog went to stay with my friend Sheila, round the corner, as I knew I would be late back, and as I have to go to Truro this afternoon, she is keeping Molls until I get back which is very kind. Though it is Very Quiet without my little girl.

I’m somewhat short on sleep now so forgive me if this doesn’t make much sense. There was an incredibly pagan, earthy, Celtic feeling over that, the longest night. And sharing it with some of my dearest friends as well as a whole beachful of singers, made it one of the most memorable nights for a long time.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Telephone Singing

My Bill Bryson week ended up struggling back by train in a heatwave. This I do not recommend, particularly with one hot dog and a very heavy case (how had it got so heavy overnight, pray?) and having to change trains three times. I was extremely hot and bothered by the time we reached Falmouth and desperate to get home.

Unusually for Cornwall, it was even hot in the evenings: living by the sea tends to mean cool breezes after about 6pm, but when I finally got home it was warm enough to sit outside my local in shorts and a t shirt.

The following evening was our gig in Flushing, part of Flushing Arts Week. We sang for an hour in their church, which has the most incredible acoustics, as well as stained glass windows, and then trotted down the road to the Standard pub. The service here left a lot to be desired, but we finally managed to get drinks and sat outside (how often can you do that in this country?) with the river on our right, the boats bobbing up and down, and a family of swans parading up the slipway.

As Mum’s foot was playing up again and she was stuck in Devon, I said I’d ring her so she could hear us singing down the phone. I mentioned this to Claire, our musical director, who said straight away, “What would she like to hear?”

“Something cheerful,” I replied.

So we settled on “Freedom Train” and I rang Mum, got her ready, sitting the other end of the phone on her sofa.

Claire made sure she’d got the audience’s attention and announced, “This number is for Sue’s Mum!” and we began to sing.

There really is something very special about singing outside, by water. I was hoping that some of that would come across, albeit down the phone, but you never know, so I held my breath when the number had finished.

Mum was a bit quiet, but finally said, “I was so touched and moved. It made my day!”

Which made a magical night even better.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Bill Bryson and train lag

If it’s possible to have jetlag from trains, by last Friday I had it, having spent nearly every day on a train journey. Though I suppose that would be train lag.

Molls and I took the train up to see mum in Devon on the Tuesday and spent Wednesday with her, thankfully nowhere near a train. On Thursday I got the 8.30 am train to Paddington and apart from a points failure at Reading, the journey was uneventful. Except, of course, that I was on a rather Tight Schedule and it meant we were 15 minutes late arriving at Paddington.

I therefore had 19 minutes before I was due to meet Bill.

“How long will it take to get to Langham Place?” I said as I threw myself into the taxi.

“Should be about 20 minutes, ma’am,” said the cab driver. (I can only assume he called me Ma’am because I was wearing my Smart (Wedding) Jacket. Normally people call me ‘love’.)

“I’m interviewing Bill Bryson at 12,” I said. “Can you get me there for then?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, and pressed his foot on the gas.

14 minutes later we arrived at the hotel, I shot up in the lift to the top floor, hurtled out of the lift and told the maitre d’ who I was meeting. “He isn’t here,” he said helpfully.

I stared at him, muttering silent expletives and looked around. No Bill. Or no one that looked like Bill, but then I’d never met him before. What did he look like in the flesh? I was just pulling my phone out to ring Polly from Transworld, when she and Bill stepped out of the lift. Phew….

From then on it was fine. He’s a lovely man to interview – very self effacing and ironic. Taller than I expected, and quieter. The sort of voice you could listen to a lot. Very intelligent in an interesting way. Of course we all know about his sense of humour. And he came out with some great one liners – such as, “I wouldn’t like to talk to me!”

All too soon it was over and we said our goodbyes. I hurried into the Ladies and sampled their posh hand cream, made use of their mouthwash (?!) and relished a glimpse of How the Other Half Live. Aren’t I lucky, I thought, to do this for a job. (Not so much fun at the moment as most freelancers I know, including myself, are having rather a Lean Time, but still.)

It was good to go to London, it was a privilege to meet Bill, and apart from a hellish train journey back home, last week was good for me.

Those are the sort of interviews I love doing. Need to try and rustle up a few more….

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Singing, rejections and Bill Bryson

Singing plays an enjoyably large part in my life at the moment. We have several big gigs over the next few weeks, the first being last Saturday where our three choirs took it in turns to sing in the courtyard at Trelissick Gardens near Truro. In between Seamus played the accordion, there was a bar and if the weather had been a little warmer you might have felt you’d wandered into some Mediterranean walled garden.

Then at 9.30pm we all (audience included) set off down the narrow winding road to the King Harry Ferry which takes cars over to the Roseland. When the last cars were off, all 100 of us singers piled onto the ferry, followed by audience with blankets, hats, thermos flasks and all manner of warm stuff.

Then we all sang as one choir. It was just amazing, singing into the still of a May night while the water lapped around us. The inky darkness was soft and welcoming, carrying our voices with care. If it was half as good to hear, as it was to sing, that can only be a wondrous thing.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night. 100 singers together is quite something, but on a ferry in the middle of the river made it just magical and everyone sat, transfixed. The evening cast fairy dust over all of us and really did make me believe that in Cornwall, just about anything is possible.

Back to normal and I am trying to get an agent for my memoir of Pip and another walks book. Three rejections but all such encouraging ones about my work - and all saying that publishing is so difficult right now….

This week, on a completely different tack, I am off to interview Bill Bryson in London. That sounds so blasé but in fact I’m still pinching myself over this one.

“What are you going to wear?” cried my mother last night over the phone. “And what about your feet?” – she is clearly concerned that, at the age of 53, her daughter is unable to dress suitably for interviewing such an Important Author.

One advantage in having a small wardrobe is that there is little choice, so I had the clothes bit sorted some time ago. I am more concerned with having spare batteries for my tape recorder, making sure I have my questions and notes. (I sorted the clothes bit long ago) and getting the publicity lady’s mobile number in case my train’s delayed.

I know I will be extremely nervous beforehand, but it’s good to have nerves. It ensures that you do the job properly. But I am really looking forward to the interview. Someone who can write as magnificently as Bill Bryson does must just be a real pleasure to meet. So think of me on Thursday…..

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Bristol visit, sweet peas and trees

As I write, a bunch of sweet peas sit on my desk, their sweet scent drifting towards me making me think that summer is on the way. I wish....

My Bristol visit was wonderful. I despatched Molls round to my friend Sheila’s at 8.30 and Molls bounced in to greet her without a backward glance which, although somewhat galling for me, meant that I didn’t have to worry about her.

The trip by train meant leaving Falmouth at 9am and getting there at 2pm but it was a treat to have all that time to do nothing. I read, dozed, stared out of the window and ate my sarnies. Av met me at the station, and we walked to the theatre for the matinee of Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella which was the best ballet I have ever seen.

Being Matthew Bourne, his Cinderella was different. He based it on an old David Niven film of a fighter pilot who crashes his plane and narrowly escapes death. He is given a second chance at life – and love – through his (male) guardian angel and the woman he loves.

I am a real groupie of his, but this ballet was quite amazing: the costumes were carefully researched, the sets were simple yet deceptively complex and incredibly effective, the lighting atmospheric, the surround sound worked perfectly and swept us all away for the next two and a half hours. At the end of it, we stood and cheered, our hands were sore from clapping so much. We looked at each other with tears running down our cheeks and said, “I want to see it all over again!”

To cheer ourselves up, we met my lovely niece, Luce, and had a great time with her. She showed us around Bristol and we went for a few drinks, had something to eat and for some reason ended up telling her how Av and I met and our complicated love lives at the time. (This was on the second glass of wine.) Later we wandered around Bristol and then crashed into bed, though I tend not to sleep well away from home.

A 4am there were drunken shoutings in the corridor. I had been awake for a while and found it quite funny, but someone was bashing on his mate’s door trying to get in, to muffled responses of, “Shut up. Go away!”

Eventually Av rang down to reception, they sent security up and the police arrived, who arrested the fellow who appeared reluctant to accompany his new, sober buddies. “Listen mate,” I heard the cop say. “You’ve been thrown out of the hotel. Just come with us, will you?”

Some time later he was persuaded to go with them and all was quiet again.

On our way down to breakfast later, we mentioned our disturbance and by the time we’d eaten, they had refunded our accommodation costs. “Great!” I said. “That’s our next weekend!”

So next time you want a freebie in Bristol, arrange for some drunken friends to pay you a visit….

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Spreading my Wings

Living with someone who’s depressed, or ill is difficult. Obviously. If they’re ill AND depressed, it’s even more difficult, but you get on with it. Life goes on and you have to go with it. I hadn't realised just how much Pip's ill health had affected me for it had been going on for 5 years and he had been depressed for a long while before that.

Five months on, I feel I am beginning to emerge from my shell. I have met new people and am able to do so many more things without worrying about Pip or feeling guilty. Over the past few weeks I have stayed out till midnight, gone singing all morning or afternoon and am going to be interviewed on Radio Cornwall on Friday. As long as Mollie is OK (and I make sure she is), I have - to my amazement - had a wonderful time.

I have started a photography course with Pip’s camera. Unfortunately the tutor assumes you know a lot about digital cameras to start with, which I don’t, and I’m finding it difficult to catch up. It’s a huge challenge so I am going to ask a couple of people to help. A friend, who has lent me a whole lot of his photography books, suggested I ask to go out with a photographer and learn on the spot which is a great idea. Life is very busy right now with work and rehearsing for a big gig on the bank holiday weekend, but when that’s over I will do just that.

This weekend I am going up to Bristol to see Matthew Bourne's ballet Cinderella with my dear mate Av and my lovely niece Lucy who’s at university there. Molls is staying with my friend Sheila round the corner and while it’s her first time staying overnight without me, it will do us both good. She and Sheila adore each other and Sheila is wonderful with dogs so I have no worries on that score.

While of course I miss my Pip, he is everywhere around me when I need him and I know he always will be. But now I can see a life opening up. And while there are bound to be many more tough times ahead, it’s good to see the prospect of a life with possibilities. Pip would be delighted, I know.

Last weekend I went on a Bulgarian singing workshop in Marazion. Over 100 men and women sang with this incredible woman for over two hours. As a result I can now sing suggestive songs in Bulgarian. Or I could just be singing “can I have a cuppa”.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


This is actually Titch, as often featured in Cornwall Today walks, but he is a bloke, after all....

This year has been one of constant surprises, but one of them is that I have noticed that men have a different attitude towards me now. It’s almost as if I’d been a shadow and now I’ve been fleshed out. I am a person – a woman - rather than just Pip’s wife.

I am very lucky in having made some good friends. Every Friday in Pip’s local is a group who get together to celebrate the weekend. I often join them, usually as the only woman there, and it’s fun to be with men. I like the banter and the way they include me and it does me good.

Some men like to look after me. Dear Joe upstairs took it upon himself to paint the garage and the door over Easter. He wouldn’t take any money so I bought him cans of Bass, which he loves. This week he has borrowed a pressure washer from the pub and hosed down all the outside areas, right down to my back yard, which was badly in need of doing. Again he wouldn’t take any money so I nipped down to our other local and stuck some money behind the bar for him. I feel saying thank you is so important but a gesture is always appreciated.

My dear brother in law is always at the other end of the phone and sorts out all kinds of problems, including my hoover, was there for me when I sold Pip’s boat, and is coming next week to look at one of the tenant’s windows.

One of the editors I work with asked how he could help. I said, "just carry on giving me work". But he has also written a fabulous endorsement of my work to send to agents for the memoir I'm writing.

Another friend put my new windscreen wipers on last week (something that had defeated several other people), fixed Pip’s penknife and makes me cups of tea. He’s easy company and we make each other laugh.

Richard helped me over Pip's Will, comes for walks and always sends me a text on Friday nights to say what time he will be in the aforementioned pub. He also has lent me history books that help with my CT walks and we sometimes go to gigs together.

There are other male friends, for which I’m extremely grateful, but one of the kindest things is that though everyone treats me with affection and fun – we might flirt a bit but nothing serious – they are all aware that I’m vulnerable.

Statistics show that widows who’ve been happily married tend to form relationships again relatively quickly – it makes sense that having had a happy relationship, you would want to repeat it. Many of my friends are convinced that someone special will come along before too long. (Though the man in question would, of course, have to love animals.) It’s a nice thought but at the moment it’s too soon.

If and when someone does, I know that Pip will smile and those blue eyes will twinkle. “Look after my Flowerpot," he will say.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Sofe the Loaf and That Wedding

This is one of my neices, Sofe, on the Mall last Friday with - look who's behind her....

Well as a romantic and one who was married to one, I have to talk about The Wedding. I have to say I loved every minute of it, helped by the fact that I was with friends of a similar ilk. My dear brother in law came to fix my hoover that morning and we were having a coffee when Lyn rang. "Come on Flowerpot," she said, at 10.30. "I need you to get in the mood."

So I went over there, was handed a glass of pink fizz and a Union Jack stetson hat and we sat and scrutinised the dresses, the hats, the celebrities and Who Knew The Words to the hymns. And of course The Dress - or in this case, both sisters' dresses.

Lyn provided smoked salmon and cream cheese sarnies, then strawberries and cream and we wept through all the weepy bits and cheered at The Kiss(es) and I got a text from my little brother who was on the Mall, taking pictures and terribly excited. (See above picture of Sofe)

Later that day, I walked down to meet friends in the pub and the air was warm and a salt breeze blew on my face as I walked into town. Around me people laughed and joked, sat on pavements with their beers and glasses of wine. Everyone smiled. We were a nation united by pageantry, but a realisation that this is what we Do Best. What other nation could have put on such a spectacular show?

But most of all, we were a nation united by love.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Easter Bunnies

I often think Molls looks rather like a cross between a rabbit and a sheep when she's in full flow - this is her on Maenporth beach a few weeks ago.

For someone who can’t eat chocolate, Easter is very much a non-event though this has never bothered me. So I was amazed to find myself the recipient of several unexpected gifts:

Joe painted the garage for me and is now painting the door as well, dear of him.
Richard turned up with several books with historical background for my latest walk;
Mel gave me a bunch of bluebells from her Dad's farm;
Andrea gave me two of the most beautiful geraniums I’ve ever seen with frilly leaves and stunning, dark pink flowers. Definitely the Prince Charming of geraniums;
Viv gave me several aquilegia – their purple and pink nodding heads smile at me every time I walk up the steps;
And Paul promised me a chicken from his farm.

The weather has been fabulous which always helps - I sold Pip's BlackBerry on Easter Monday which wasn't easy, but having good friends with me helped a lot. We then went for a walk around the Lanhydrock estate which turned into one of those How Many People Does It Take To Read A Map walks. Despite (very bad) written directions and Richard reading the map, on which I had highlighted the route – which looked very simple on paper – we spent an inordinate amount of time getting lost and asking other people.

It didn’t help that my camera battery was flat so I couldn’t take a single picture, when the bluebell woods were stunning, but everywhere was so beautiful that it’s stored on the hard drive in my head. At one point I was telling Richard about someone Viv and I had worked with. Evidently my storytelling skills are sublime, for the next minute his lunch box shot out of his hand and tumbled down the riverbank. Luckily he rescued it before it sailed downriver, but by this time we were all laughing so much none was capable of doing much.

We arrived back several hours later, with Lanhydrock house basking in the sunshine, and outside the Yew tree topiary stood proud like a chess set out of Alice in Wonderland.

It was a day I will never forget. For all the right reasons.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Close Shave

This is Restormel Castle, where Viv, Titch, Molls and I went for a wonderful walk on Sunday.

On Monday I got back around 6pm to find an answerphone message asking me to call the automated department of the Santander Fraud Prevention Scheme.

It’s a scam, I thought. Surely if it was real, they wouldn’t ask me to ring an automated service? But I rang one of my brothers, who’s into this sort of thing. He said, “Shall I ring it for you and find out?”

So he did and reported back that they weren’t asking for any bank account details. So I rang. Pressed the 1 of this and 2 for that to answer security questions. And then I was asked if I’d made a payment of nearly £2,000 to a stranger. Press 1 if you have, Press 2 if you haven’t and need to talk to an advisor.

I pressed 2 quicker than you can bet, and talked to someone who said they would freeze my online banking and make sure the money was back in my account within 48 hours. Could I run a virus scan on my computer and ring them back?

I did that, but talked to Niki, my brilliant computer man who snorted. “No point in running a scan on your computer,” he said (with a Russian accent). “You ‘ave no virus on your computer.” There was an intake of breath as he inhaled his ciggie. “These people are stupid,” he continued. “Nowadays they get caught straight away. Ees waste of time.”

Somewhat mollified, if not confused, I did run the scan, rang back the bank and held on. And on. Until an automated message said they would ring me back when an advisor was free. I went to bed.

Next morning, repeat of last paragraph, without going to bed. I put the phone down and at 10am got a phone call from the bank. No one had made notes on my account so the bloke didn’t know what had happened the day before. I told him about the virus scan, about bank account being blocked, and having rung but no one getting back to me.

“Oh, you need to ring another number,” he replied.

At this point, not having slept too well, I exploded. “My husband has died, I have already rung three times and I am not ringing any other numbers. YOU sort it out,” I cried.

There was an infinestimal pause and he said, “Of course, Mrs Jackson. Absolutely.”

At this point, for some reason, I burst into tears. Relief I think. “So I don’t need to do anything?”

“No, of course not. We’ll sort this out Mrs Jackson, and I do apologise.”

I don’t think he probably knew what he was apologising for by this time, but that didn’t matter – the problem was being sorted. And thank god Niki was right and the bank were alerted to this amount of money whistling out of my account in time. And, more to the point, will replace it.

So while that was a near miss, I’m very fortunate. Even better, my dear brother in law came round last night with a boot full of wood he’d chopped up for me. We spent half an hour unloading it and stacking it and then retired to the kitchen for a glass of wine or two.

You know me – give me wood and wine and I’m happy.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Time Travel and Walks book

This is Rosemullion Head, taken last week in the glorious sunshine....

Last weekend Molls and I went up to Devon see one of my older brothers and my nieces, who are both at university and a joy to be with – intelligent, thoughtful and attractive young women. We don't often meet so it was wonderful to spend time with them and hear about their views on life, what they're doing and wearing. We placed bets on the National (no, won nothing) and went out to the pub for a meal.

Unfortunately I had several sudden and totally unexpected waves of missing Pip that knocked me off my feet. (At home it's more manageable somehow as I don't have to worry about other people.) A resurgence several hours later erupted like a volcano – just after we'd finished eating in the pub – and I shot off into the dusk with poor Molls for a howl and a Long Walk. (It's not always advisable to let family witness what you're really going through, particularly younger members.)

Next morning, I checked myself over gingerly. I was scarred and scraped, bruised and battered but alive. My sense of myself bubbled up to the surface and I smiled at the warm spring sunshine. Outside I could hear the tap tap of a woodpecker, the whinnying of a horse. A dog barking.

Around me life was going on as normal. My family were happily dozing in different rooms, Molls snoring on my bed. All was well. I had been gone for how long? Weeks or months – days or minutes – seconds or a lifetime? It didn't matter. I was back.

And that's enough of the difficult stuff. I have two bits of good news: the first is that, having got Pip's new camera out and practising with it (see above) I'm loving it and have booked myself on a photography course starting in a few weeks time.

The other thing is that, having had several disappointments on the work front this week, I have signed a publishing contract with Sigma Press for a walks book. I'm delighted to be working with them, and look forward to its publication next year.